Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bastille America

I hope all my Frenchies had a joyeux fête nationale!

Personally, I was feeling a little sad to have left just before the big day. I love seeing how other countries celebrate their national excited they get, the music, the dancing, the patriotism.

I've actually been in France before during Bastille Day (as we call it in America, much to the consternation of my French friends). During my first Eurotrip in 2006 with my parents, we luckily happened to be in Paris on July 14th. We saw jets flying over our heads, all the museums were free, and there were fireworks over the sparkly Eiffel Tower (seen from the parking lot of our hotel, due to the overprotectiveness of my parents, worried about their young daughter getting too close to a crowd of rowdy FOREIGNERS...if only frustrated teenage me could see me now, doing just that every single day of my life!). Anyway, it was glorious.

But now, after having lived in France for a year, being there for Bastille Day would have meant so much more to me. I would have loved to have spent it with des français, learning the real scoop.

But it was not to be. The visa for my next Spain adventure required that I come home to the US of A for the summer, so no fête nationale en France for me. Queue one bummed francophile.

However, said visa also required me to be in downtown Chicago le 14 juillet, and for that I thank my lucky stars. I was just walking down Michigan Avenue, on the way back to the car from my appointment at the Spanish consulate, when a French flag on a bus stop advertisement caught my eye. Mesmerized, I moved toward it until I could read what it said: there was a block party happening on Daley Plaza to celebrate Bastille Day, and it was starting in 10 minutes!

Being a sometimes impulsive person, there was no hesitation in my mind--I was going to that party. Better than sitting in rush hour traffic on the way home, I say!

The first thing that caught my eye as I walked up was that there was a group of people playing pétanque. Never in my life has a game meant for 80-year-old men made me so happy. There they were, a group of octogenarian Chicagoans, proudly representing the Chicago Pétanque Society (apparently this exists), throwing heavy balls, seeing who could come the closest to another, slightly lighter ball. And I was overjoyed to see them.

And then there were the waiter races! People decked out in French flag aprons, running around the square to serve "wine" to patrons, seeing who could do it the fastest. Entertaining? Oh, yes. Add that to the stands selling crêpes, galettes, vin, et macarons, and I was in 7th heaven.

 It's been hard, these past few weeks, being in a place where most people's idea of France consists of a country full of smelly, hairy-armpitted people who walk around going "oh ho ho" all the time. So walking into a square full of people who could understand me when I said un crêpe beurre sucre, s'il vous plaît, that really meant something. I'm not alone. I'm not an alien, and France isn't a place that I dreamed up one night, even if no one here at home cares. There are other people who love France et les français as much as I do, and being surrounded by them, even just for a few hours, was something I'd really needed.

So when they played La Marseillaise (the French national anthem), I couldn't help but smile as all the people around me started to sing. They know what I feel. Their singing said "la France me manque," (I miss France), just like my heart says.

Merci, Chicago, for bringing a small slice of France here to me. That's exactly what I needed.


  1. Hi Alisa, Hi!
    I enjoyed reading your blog.
    I just accepted Galicia as an Auxiliar de Conversación but I am wondering what time of day, hours a day, and days a week an auxiliary might work.
    My dad is from Galicia and the family lives in Galicia so I was planning on doing a Master's program at la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela and wondering if I could do both. Are auxiliar hours flexible at all?
    Can you tell me how you transitioned from Galicia to France? --I may want to do that too.


  2. Hi!

    Thanks for reading my blog!

    I'll try to give you some advice on being an auxiliar, although I will admit that everyone's experience is different, and they can vary widely depending on the school you get placed in. Have you been placed in a school yet? If not, I wouldn't enroll in the master's until you're sure that the school you'll be teaching in is close enough to Santiago to commute to every day. Otherwise you can enroll in a master's in one of the other universities in Galicia, there are a bunch!

    Your hours will depend on the type of school you get. If it's a primary school, your hours will most likely be between 10am and 4:30pm, with a long lunch break. In a secondary school, the hours are more likely to be in the "morning," or between 8am and 3pm. And if you're in an Escuela oficial de idiomas, then the hours are more likely to be in the afternoon or evenings, after people are off of work.

    The days of the week vary too. Most schools will try to give you at least one day off a week, and if you get a nice school, they'll try to have that day be a Monday or a Friday so that you can have a long weekend. You only work 12 hours a week, but keep in mind that those hours aren't always all together. In general, there will be quite a few hours of waiting time between classes. The schools aren't doing this to be mean to you or to waste your time, but it tends to be the way things work out when they try to fit you into the classes where they think you'll be the most effective, which may only meet a few times a week. And also keep in mind that you may not be able to live right next to where you work, especially if you're placed in a small pueblo and want to live in a larger city. So you may waste hours sitting around waiting for the other teachers to finish their classes to be able to get a ride home again. Or you may be waiting for the bus.

    If you get lucky and are placed in the city, I could see it being possible to do a master's at the same time, if the school you're placed in is flexible about scheduling your hours around your master's classes (but keep in mind that they may not be...after all, your primary responsibility is to them--they're paying you to be there!). If you're in a pueblo, it will probably be a lot more complicated and I could see it being really difficult to do a master's at the same time, unless the majority of your classes were online, or your professors were really lenient about attendance.

    I'm not trying to discourage you, I just want you to know the realities of auxiliar life before you get your hopes up! :)

    Transitioning from Galicia to France was...interesting. In some ways, things were very similar, since I was in Brittany, which is another Celtic nation where it rains a lot. But in others, they were very different--the attitude of the French, for example, is not that of the laid-back Spaniards. The paperwork in France was a nightmare. And trying to speak French again after three years of Spanish was quite the trial. However, I'm really glad I did it, and I met some fantastic people and had some wonderful experiences. I was also given a little more freedom with my classes in France, treated more as an equal, which I appreciated. In general, after the first few difficult months, I acclimated and things were good, so I would recommend trying it if you're interested in France too!

    Hope all that helps, and don't hesitate to ask if you have more questions. I know it can be really overwhelming at first trying to figure out what being an auxiliar is all about!